Friday, November 7, 2014

A Knight Who Said "Oui!"

On Sunday in New York City, a mere two days before Veteran's Day, a 95-year-old hero of World War II shall receive the nation of France's highest honor.  He shall be knighted.  

Joseph Pocoroba, a Jersey boy for all of the (almost) century he has spent on this Earth - save for the years he spent fighting overseas in World War II - shall receive the insignia of Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.  It is an honor being bestowed upon him at the direction of President of the French Republic, Francois Hollande.  It is an honor being bestowed upon him, as eloquently stated in the June 5, 2014 letter he received from Bernand Lortholary, the French Consulate General, that "underlines the deep appreciation and gratitude of the French people for your contribution to the liberation of our country during World War II.  We will never forget the commitment of the American heroes to whom France owes so much."   

Sgt. Pocoroba earned a Bronze Star for his actions during a battle near the aptly-named town of Bitche, France in December, 1944.  He and the four-man crew he commanded heard a radio transmission from an American platoon that was pinned down by the Germans and in danger of being overrun by them.  With nothing but coordinates received over the radio to guide him - and without being able to see exactly where he was firing - he and his men poured Howitzer fire into the German positions for four hours, which ultimately forced the Germans to withdraw from their positions and provided the heretofore trapped American platoon with the room it needed to escape.  In Sgt. Pocoroba's Silver Star citation, Major General Edward Brooks wrote: 

"Sgt. Pocoroba, in charge of a gun crew, directed fire continuously for over four hours.  Disregarding the intense counterbattery fire and his own personal fatigue, he continued to direct accurate supporting fire.  A platoon of one troop was surrounded and called for supporting fire.  Though having a clearance of only 50 yards between the friendly and enemy forces, the crew fired effectively and forced the enemy to withdraw far enough to allow the platoon to escape."

When the war ended in August 1945, Sgt. Pocoroba returned to New Jersey.  He married his best girl Doris and the two were still together fifty-seven years later when she died in 2002.  Typical of those who comprise "The Greatest Generation", he did not want to be singled out for this honor.  It took him three years to agree to accept it.  "My grand-kids were on me to get it,", he told Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press.  "I said, 'OK if that's what you want, but I'm no hero.'  A lot of guys probably did a lot more than I did."     

Thank you for listening to your grandchildren Sgt. Pocoroba.  And for the record, I must respectfully disagree with your characterization of yourself.  You are most assuredly a hero.  For what you did, not just one grateful nation - but two grateful nations - thank you.  

Congratulations on a most-deserved honor.  


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